At Library of Congress’s Stradivari concert, Miro Quartet takes advantage of instruments

December 19, 2012

The Library of Congress’s annual Stradivari concert provides a rare opportunity to hear these iconic instruments played together by a professional quartet.

These instruments infuse even the quietest playing with a lambent glow that allows the player to relax and focus on pure music-making. The sonority is uniquely beautiful, and became even more so when blending with a clarinet in the Brahms Quintet.

Tuesday evening’s concert would have been more interesting still if the guest artists had also availed themselves of the Tourte bows in the library’s collection, but they had only two days in which to acclimate to the instruments, and learning to handle different bows, even ones much finer than their own, was asking too much.

Regardless, the playing itself was mostly very good. The Miró Quartet, founded 18 years ago, has a solid, mid-level career, and its members are all thoughtful and skillful. In Schubert’s grand G major quartet, the group was particularly impressive in the scherzo and finale; virtuoso movements that require the highest degree of bowing precision. First violinist Daniel Ching nailed his frightful licks in the finale effortlessly. The first two movements were less successful. Although there was clear structural understanding, Schubert’s wide variety of accents were treated generically (and sometimes ignored), and there were stray lapses of intonation. The “storm scene” in the slow movement felt careful and plodding, and the cellist broke up the phrasing of his big solo melody (when no one else did). He also played a wrong note, twice, in the Trio.

In the Brahms, the low strings brought forth a plummy, dark quality sound that the violinists couldn’t always match, though the overall blend with the clarinet was wondrous. Ricardo Morales, principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was a pleasure to listen to; the silky quality of his high notes, the perfect intonation, the smoothness of register breaks and the control of dynamics at the extremes of his range all bespoke a true artist. On what was most likely a single rehearsal, there was less freedom in interpretation than there might have been. But the mysterious Adagio brought the most rapt concentration from all concerned, and heartbreaking ending of the work was deeply affecting.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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